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100 of 114 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A myth-busting, incisive, mind-changing delight
This is an excellent book. It is witty and absorbing and just about impossible to put down. It is packed with the results of a multitude of studies. It is a myth-busting, incisive, mind-changing delight. It deals with the "delusions" that many people have concerning gender differences, and how these delusions have a powerful (though often unconscious) effect on people's...
Published on August 28, 2010 by Kristin

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80 of 98 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, insightful, and flawed
Delusions of Gender focuses in particular on the brain and media coverage, whereas Brainstorm is a synthetic evaluation of the theory that prenatal exposure to hormones has a long lasting impact in organizing the mind. The former is also much more geared towards the general public. Although both focus a great deal on methodology, Brain Storm is actually focused on the...
Published on December 11, 2010 by TeenageLunatic


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100 of 114 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A myth-busting, incisive, mind-changing delight, August 28, 2010
This is an excellent book. It is witty and absorbing and just about impossible to put down. It is packed with the results of a multitude of studies. It is a myth-busting, incisive, mind-changing delight. It deals with the "delusions" that many people have concerning gender differences, and how these delusions have a powerful (though often unconscious) effect on people's lives.

The central myth that the author confronts is that men and women have widely different sets of ability that are mostly innate, hard-wired, and unchangeable. The author argues that this has not been demonstrated. In fact, it is not even clear that these differences in ability exist.

Take empathy. If you test people's empathy by asking them how empathetic they think they are (and yes, some scientists actually do this), then women test much higher than men. But if you actually test their abilities (by, for instance, asking what emotions are being expressed in a particular face), women do only a tiny bit better than men. And if you design the study to get rid of gender biases (the author shows how researchers do this), then women do no better than men.

Or take the ability to mentally rotate objects in space which, for a long time, has been considered to be necessary for success in math and engineering. Usually men do better than women. But if you fib and tell a group of test-takers that "women perform better than men in this test, usually for genetic reasons," then women perform as well as the men.

And on it goes. The author shows how subtle cues in our environment affect our identities and thus our behaviors and thus our life course. And how our implicit beliefs are often diametrically opposed to our explicit beliefs and how this can wreak havoc in our societies.

There are also sections on more obvious instances of gender bias in the workplace and at home, the difficulties interpreting MRI studies, the subtle ways that parents "teach" gender to their children even while claiming (and believing) that they are being gender-neutral, the effects (or not) of pre-natal testosterone, sex differences in animal behavior (did you know that a male rat will take care of an infant rat if it's placed in it's cage?), the "seductive allure" of neuroscience, and more.

A wonderful book. I think I'm going to go and read it again. . . .
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62 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The trouble with neuro- (and evolutionary) sexism, January 31, 2011
Below is an excerpt from a forthcoming review in Skeptical Inquirer. I am a philosopher of science and former evolutionary biologist, and I highly recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in the biology and social science of gender.

It is nowadays commonly accepted knowledge that there are profound innate differences between genders. I'm not talking about the obvious anatomical ones, but about the allegedly (radically) different ways in which male and female brains work. It seems that at every corner we hear statements to the effect that gender XX or XY is better or more capable or more attracted to a litany of tasks and behaviors, from spatial abilities to mathematics, from aptitude toward science to liking the color pink. When prominent figures -- like former Harvard President Larry Summers -- get in trouble for talking about behavioral gender differences as if they were established facts backed by the power of evolutionary and neuro-biology, a chorus of defenders rises up to decry political correctness and to present the Summers of the day as a valiant fighter for rationality in the face of relativism and demagoguery.

Not so fast, says Cordelia Fine in her Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. Fine is an academic psychologist and freelance writer, and her book ought to be kept side by side with the likes of the (antithetical) The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, to provide a bit of balance to what has become common and yet largely unfounded knowledge about gender differences. Let us be clear at the outset that nobody is seriously suggesting that genetics and evolution have nothing to do with human behavior, including gendered differences. Rather, Fine's claim is that a lot is being taken for established these days on the basis of much too flimsy evidence -- and more importantly that the widening consensus among scientists and the general public about the innateness (and consequent inevitability) of gender differences has a measurable and pernicious effect on women.

Nature and nurture surely interact in complex ways, particularly in an animal so behaviorally flexible as a human being. But the danger of "neurosexism" (and evolutionary sexism) is that public pronouncements by scientists far outpace the evidence, with the result of reinforcing stereotypes and negatively affecting millions of lives. Scientists have an ethical duty, as Wittgenstein put it in another context, to remember that whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
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62 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning amount of research, August 27, 2010
found this book stunning. All around you see all this stuff about 'Men's brains' and 'Women's brains', and it always struck me as odd that a sex that has, for example, written so much brilliant literature should be deemed semi-autistic, etc etc. So here comes this brilliantly researched book (just take a look at the pages and pages of notes at the end - this author knows her onions backwards and forwards and sideways) - and she points out how shoddy it all is.
And she's funny!
No one will ever again have to sit through a dinner party with some parent going on about how 'I thought that too, but you only have to LOOK at my two children to see there are innate differences... bleh bleh'. She unpicks it all and shows how social pressures are so important and the brain differences that are so often claimed are, essentially, neurotosh, aka neurosexism. I think I shall carry a copy round with me.
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80 of 98 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, insightful, and flawed, December 11, 2010
By 
Delusions of Gender focuses in particular on the brain and media coverage, whereas Brainstorm is a synthetic evaluation of the theory that prenatal exposure to hormones has a long lasting impact in organizing the mind. The former is also much more geared towards the general public. Although both focus a great deal on methodology, Brain Storm is actually focused on the question of the etiology of gender differences, whereas the message of Delusions of Gender is focused on flaws in interpretation and use of neuroscience research.
While I admire Fine's questions, I think she makes some researchers and conclusions out to be more unreasonable than they actually are. She points out that researchers often make much of small studies and highlights two claims that originated in studies with a limited number of participants: the idea that males are more lateralized for language than females and that they have larger corpus callosums. Fine contends that when meta-analyses are done, it becomes apparent that this is not the case. It's not that clear cut. Daniel Voyer conducted a meta-analysis and concluded that there are sex differences in lateralization (Voyer, 1996). Similarly, the corpus callosum claims often depend on how the measurement is done. It's important to take into account study quality as well ( Holloway 1998). She downplays the ambiguity on these questions. Also, even Hyde's Gender Similarities Hypothesis documented sex differences in some language-related skills(Hyde, 2005). Girls outperform boys on standardized reading and writing tests (Program for International Literacy 2006, US Department of Education 1997). Moreover, Fine's discussion of the mental rotation and math relationship does not note some compelling findings that might alter a reader's impression. For example, Casey and colleagues found that spatial abilities mediated the gender gap on the SAT-M (e.g. Casey et. al 1995, Tartre 1990). She cites Ceci et. al 2009 for a statement of dispute, but doesn't go into detail about the issues they raised. They don't think the research showing SAT-M scores and mental rotation are flawed, per se. That said, Fine raises some legitimate issues about how the scientific community and press responded to some papers, especially in light of subsequent findings and controversy.

Although one can easily beg to differ with some of Fine's takes on the data, many of the questions she poses are important and worthwhile. Much of the book features Fine explaining this technology and its limitations. She spends a lot of time indicting particular studies, illuminating how ambiguous some data is, and how it gets wildly interpreted. She emphasizes how challenging it is to interpret what's really going on in the mind. One need not agree with Fine's take on certain controversial issues on the topic to see her point about popular writers gone wild. She also rightly stresses that people tend to be particularly impressed with this research (Weisberg et. al 2008). Fine's text is well-suited to instilling skepticism into readers and enabling them to look critically at the claims they might encounter in press reports. This is especially valuable because press reports typically mention methodological details, but don't cover some of the limitations in procedures.
The downside, though, as Diane Halpern notes is it not as helpful to distinguishing between cautiously executed studies with reasonable conclusions. Note also, such investigations do exist. (e.g. Allen et. al 2003; Koscik et. al 2009; Hanggi et. al 2010). Researchers who care about these sorts of issues, exist too. Consider Tor Wager who conducted a meta-analysis of 60+ brain imaging studies, and noted he was speculating in his discussion of them. Wager and one of his colleagues also opened a discussion of sex differences in the emotional brain by pointing out Aristotle's views on women's inferiority, and ended by emphasizing sex similarities. I suppose there are still limitations in the research, and some of this could be misconstrued. It's not a researcher getting overly excited about a single spurious finding that conforms to stereotypes.
Genes, hormones, and their impact on brain structure and function contribute to making the lives of men and women different (Hines, 2005). Yet, the awe that some neuroimaging studies inspire may not always be conducive to understanding how. New York Times editor wrote that Fine's book helped her "see how complex and fascinating the whole issue is." I do worry that this comes at the expense of dismissing legitimate scholarship.
Ultimately, Fine posits that some of this research will wind up in the sorry scrap heap of the past. That's not beyond the scope of possibility. Maybe in retrospect, we will see some bias, some flaws and gaps. But it won't just be a bunch of over-eager researchers to

References
Allen JS, Damasio H, Grabowski TJ, Bruss J, Zhang W. Sexual dimorphism and asymmetries in the gray-white composition of the human cerebrum. Neuroimage 2003;18:880-894.
Casey, M. B., Nuttall, R., Pezaris, E., & Benbow, C. P. (1995). The influence of spatial ability on gender differences in math college entrance test scores across diverse samples. Developmental Psychology, 31, 697-705.
Ceci, S.J., Williams, W.M., & Barnett, S.M. (2009, March). Women's underrepresentation in science: Sociocultural and biological considerations. Psychological Bulletin.
Fitch, RH., & Denenberg, VH. 1998. A role for ovarian hormones in sexual differentiation of the brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, 311-352.
Hänggi, J., Buchmann, A., Mondadori, C. R. A., Henke, K.,
Jäncke, L., & Hock, C. (2008). Sexual dimorphism in
the parietal substrate associated with visuospatial cognition
independent of general intelligence. Journal of Cognitive
Neuroscience, 22, 139-155.
Hines, M. (2004). Brain gender. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.
Hyde, J. S. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60, 581-592.
Koscik, T., O'Leary, D., Moser, D. J., Andreasen, N. C., & Nopoulos, P. (2009). Sex differences in
parietal lobe morphology: Relationship to mental rotation performance. Brain and
Cognition, 69(3), 451-459.
Program for International Literary Report, pp. 63-64. Accessed November 9th 2009
[...]
U. S. Department of Education. (1997). National Assessment of Educational Progress (Indicator
32: Writing proficiency: Prepared by the Educational Testing Service). Washington, DC.
(World Wide Web: [...])
Voyer, D. (1996). On the magnitude of laterality effects and sex differences in functional lateralities. Laterality, 1, 51-83.
Wager, T. D., Phan, K. L., Liberzon, I., & Taylor, S. F. (2003) Valence, gender, and lateralization of functional brain anatomy in emotion: A meta-analysis of findings from neuroimaging. Neuroimage, 19, 513-531.
Wager, T. D. & Ochsner, K. N. (2005). Sex differences in the emotional brain. Neuroreport, 16(2), 85-87.
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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Drawer Reading!, September 22, 2010
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It is exceedingly rare to find such a gem of a book. The book is academically serious, but it is written with such flair and panache -- and clarity and concision -- that you don't have to be a brainiac to understand the Fine points made within.

What Fine does in this book is 1) survey some of the best known literature concluding that there are biological or innate gender differences 2) expose very real problems in methodology and reasoning in this literature 3) and uncover some of the little-known work that does not suffer from such appalling errors which casts doubt on the claim that there are biological or innate gender differences. Fine is extremely careful about how she states her conclusions; she's no messianic fanatic who declares that there are no such innate differences. She is too smart to think that the data out there give us a firm answer either way. What she shows, brilliantly, is that those who pretend that there is such definitive evidence are guilty of a rush to judgment.

Fine is a serious academic who has done the public a great service by making clear to ordinary people how shibboleths about gender difference that permeate our culture do not have firm grounding in the neuroscientific studies on which they often draw. At the same time, she does the academy a great service; gender studies in neuroscience needs to up its game.

And while she is accomplishing all this, you, the reader, will be laughing, gasping, smirking, grinning, and just plain enjoying the fun way she presents her material. Kudos to such a young talent! This is going on my holiday gift list!
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neurosexists Beware, November 28, 2010
The first thing to say about this excellent book is that it is very readable. I consumed it quickly over a weekend and mostly on public transport. Fine is an intelligent and generous writer able to juggle concepts from different disciplines without loosing the central thread, or the audience. This book is also fueled by a (dark) sense of humour and a clear eyed idealism.

Are little boys and little girls essentialy different or are the differences between them the result of a world that treats them differently from birth (or even earlier)? Fine is posing the latter argument.

Her attack is two pronged, she is at once challenging the scientific community whose research into the origins of gender difference might be a little bit incautious and one-eyed, in the thrall of new technology and their own historical context, and at the same time she is going after the pop-science, mass media, and self- and parenting-help writers who have turned that science into an industry designed to justify a sexist status quo.

This book provides the reader with a lot of joy, when is it not fun to see someone deflate the sort of pompous ass who can co-author a paper with his wife explaining that men are incapable of preparing dinner, but it also going to make readers angry that this sort of 'men are from mars' tripe is gaining credence in schools, universities, and the business world.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant critique of neurosexism and Evo Psych, March 31, 2011
By 
M. A. Krul (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Cordelia Fine's "Delusions of Gender" has been making the rounds among the literati and the general public interested in popular science alike, and with good reason. Her work is the much-needed answer to all the explicitly or implicitly sexist nonsense peddled in the domain of popular science nowadays and a breath of fresh air after all the pseudoscientific screeds along the lines of "Men are from Mars, Women from Venus" etc. Fine, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Melbourne, wrote this work out of frustration with the proliferation of such books, and a fine counterblast it is. With humor, insight, and a knack for making complicated issues obvious and appealing, she systematically demolishes the case for understanding gender differences in culture and society as the immediate result of 'inherent' brain functioning or hardwired evolutionary patterns.

Fine's book discusses priming, that is how women perform worse when reminded of womanhood rather than of some other trait or none at all, as well as stereotype threat, the phenomenon when women are reminded of particular stereotypes adhering to their identity as such and this undermines their performance also. These issues are not just important for gender discrimination and exclusion, but also for racism in testing and recruitment. She discusses the way in which, often inadvertently, various cultural and subcultural elements in everything from big business to computer science recruitment are set up in a way that unnecessarily discourages and presumes against female participation. Following that, she considers in depth the many studies that have been done in social psychology on test differences between men and women as well as the meaning and nature of studies done on the basis of PET and fMRI scans of the brain, and the habitual nature of wildly overinterpreting them in favor of patriarchal conclusions on the part of both some neo-sexists like Baron Cohen and the Pinkers as well as popular science journalists. She shows how most 'innate' test differences disappear when the tests are set up differently and correct for preconceived notions and priming. Another major part of the book is concerned with gender differences in babies and young children, and the supposed confirmation of the thesis that gender differences are large and innate and have immediate social consequences following from the repeated failures by individual parents to raise their children 'gender-free'. As Fine points out, the chances of succeeding at that on your own in such a heavily genderized society as ours are virtually zero, so that's not very surprising. But as she discusses at length, the evidence actually strongly indicates that gender identification and segregation is learned behavior of young children (albeit at a very young age indeed), reinforced often unwittingly by parents and supervisors, not an innate phenomenon; this goes even for choice of toys and play partners. Finally, the book spends some - though perhaps not enough - time on discussing evolutionary psychology and its modular brain thesis and the way in which this misrepresents how the brain works in favor of an imaginary, retroactive patriarchal interpretation of human behavior. This bit has been done more in depth in the work of David Buller and Valerie Hardcastle, Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature (Bradford Books).

Given the prevalence of these notions about how women and men's behavior really are innately and predeterminedly different across the board in society and the manner in which, since the 1970s, the gradual acceptance of this new 'scientific sexism' has created a counterrevolution against gender equality, it is of the utmost importance that as many people as possible read this excellently written book. Fine writes with subtlety and humor and will not turn off any reader even remotely inclined to objectivity. The next time some false concern is expressed by a condescending businessman or Harvard professor stating that he wished it weren't so that women are unsuited for maths and politics, but that one just can't argue with science, the reader of this book can now throw the real science right back at him. Real science always triumphs over human prejudice and naked self-interest, and the sciences of psychology and neurology are no different. All throughout the 19th century scientists attempted to find the inferiority of women, blacks, and other oppressed groups in their skull shape, facial angle, brain size, brain/pelvis ratio, and whatever else they could find to 'scientifically' ground their antiquated patriarchal nonsense. Today, it is genetics and neurology that play these roles. We must reclaim these sciences from the avatars of sexism and racism and in so doing free the way for good research and real social reform. For more on how sexism affects women in practical ways in daily life 'even' in our modern Western societies, try The Mismeasure of Woman.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sex differences not hardwired in the brain after all, December 28, 2010
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All those studies that say that women are bad at math and men are bad at relationships because their brains are hardwired that way can be very discouraging, and there are a LOT of those studies. But Cordelia Fine has looked into those studies and found flaws in them. Add into that a large number of studies that show how easy it is to jigger people's minds into doing better or worse at tasks depending on how they are psychologically primed before hand and we can see where the author is coming from.

Fine's thesis is rather than there being any physical difference between male and female brains, the differences that we see in math scores are there because our culture expects them to be there. Even when people attempt to raise their children in a gender neutral environment, culture intervenes. On TV, in schools, in children's books, in the clothing sold to children- everything is divided into genders, and females end up less adventuresome, more nurturing, expected to be nicer and not fight, and to focus on home and caring rather than invented and discovering. Toys for girls and boys are separated, and children who choose to play with toys for the opposite gender are disapproved of, especially boys who play with dolls or other `girl' toys. Tomboys may be told to act more ladylike, but boys will get beat up by other boys.

The core of her argument is that studies where test takers are primed to consider themselves members of sets other than gender yield different results than tests taken when the test takers are told things like "men traditionally do better on this test". For instance, when a group of males and females take a test and are told before hand that people who go to certain colleges (colleges that some of the test takers go to) do better on this same test, the test takers conform to this and the males and females who belong to the colleges mentioned both do better on the test than the non-certain collegians- and the males and females in that group score the same as each other on the test under these conditions. These tests have been done numerous times by different researchers, and the results are always the same- the test takers conform to expectations set up before the test. Therefore, psychology trumps brain structure where intellectual subjects are concerned.

It's an interesting proposition, and one I think needs to be investigated more- much more. There's a lot still to be untangled in gender studies. Intellectual abilities are jumbled in with emotional tendencies, and I definitely think they should be considered separately. She pretty much ignores the effect of hormones on emotional states except for the case of fetal testosterone. I think that while this book doesn't settle any gender issue questions, it does cast a lot of doubt on previous studies and urges us to look at them much harder.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, Well written., August 29, 2010
By 
W. Clawpaws (Claremont, CA USA) - See all my reviews
I think this book is set to become a classic (joining, or possibly even replacing, Carol Tavris's The Mismeasure of Woman and Anne Fausto-Sterling's Myths of Gender & Sexing the Body as must-read books on sex differences). It is a rare mix of iron-clad research, witty prose, and content that is truly important.

It's very unusual for me to read a book and want to tell everyone I know that they must read it too, but this is one of those books.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly impressive overview, September 6, 2010
I thought this was a most impressive and thorough overview of the research in this area, and it really does show how academics in this field are going to have to raise their game, and stop drawing truly dubious conclusions from experiments that raise so many question marks. And I hope that (like one previous academic reviewer, they won't just get cross and swat away this seriously researched and referenced book just because it's still readable!)
Is there any other field but gender in which there could be so many question marks over the quality of the research, and yet so many social conclusions being drawn - including in my own field - education. So thank God this book has come along. Every time I hear the words 'should be thinking of teaching them differently because they have different sorts of brains' I shall be better armed to argue.
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Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference
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